MP's concerned by plans to sell Bilthoven vaccine developer Intravacc
The Tweede Kamer will debate Health Minister Henk Kuipers’ plan to sell the State-owned vaccine institute Intravacc on Tuesday. Parliamentarians have many concerns. Several opposition parties worry about handing over all knowledge about vaccine development to a commercial party. Coalition party CDA also wants more guarantees that Kuipers won’t just sell the Bilthoven-based institute to the highest bidder, NOS reports.
The Tweede Kamer, the lower house of the Dutch parliament, previously forced the government to pause its plans until after today’s debate. The expectation is that various parties will insist today that the Cabinet scrap these plans or at least agree on better guarantees.
CDA parliamentarian Joba van den Berg is one of the MPs demanding better guarantees. According to her, Kuipers’ only requirement is that Intravacc doesn’t go to a country subject to sanctions. That is far from sufficient, she said. The EU needs to be more self-sufficient with vaccines, so the buyer must be based in an EU country and wholly owned by Europeans. Van den Berg said it must also have a clear vaccine development strategy. The CDA would love to help think about the sale, “but then the Minister would have to set much stricter conditions than what he now wrote to us. We cannot agree to this.”
Before the State can privatize a company, it must get a report on the pros and cons. The Intravacc report, prepared by a former top official of the Ministry of Public Health, mainly listed disadvantages. A primary concern was that public interests could not be left completely to commerce because it comes at the expense of protection against future pandemics. For example, a company may choose to focus on a medicine instead of a vaccine because it is more lucrative.
And that is one of GroenLinks’ main concerns. The left-wing party will call for the government to abandon the sale of Intravacc, parliamentarian Lisa Westerveld said. “We have learned that we have to keep things that are important in public hands, in the hands of the government. It is now sold to the highest bidders, while it is extremely important for the development of vaccines.”
The other two left-wing opposition parties, PvdA and SP, also have significant concerns about privatizing the institute.
Intravacc evolved from the vaccine department of the public health institute RIVM. The Dutch state is currently the sole shareholder of the research and development institute. Its production branch was sold to a company in India in 2012.
During the coronavirus pandemic, then Health Minister Hugo de Jonge decided to pause the proposed sale of the institute. His successor, Kuipers, decided to push through with it in the summer. Kuipers sees little added value in retaining one specific company for the Netherlands, saying vaccine development should become more self-sufficient in the EU as a whole. He also thinks Intravacc will have more opportunities to attract private funding if it has some distance from the State.